Title: Feels Like Heaven
Rating: PG13 for Spike’s language.
Word Count: 4,200
Summary: Buffy’s not in a good place. Dawn suspects Spike can help.
Warnings: Angsty angst.
A/N: This is a post-NFA fic in which the events of the S8 comics are obliquely mentioned, but they didn’t actually happen. Clear? Okay then! Beta’d by gillo, but since she took a few whacks at it, I’ve completely rearranged everything, so she can’t be held responsible for any errors. (If you see any, let me know, ‘k?) Also, MiAmor had a few suggestions, and our mods are wonderful. ETA: Banner by me.
Dawn met Spike at the reception area. She surveyed him with a critical eye.
“You look like crap,” she said, before flinging her arms around him. He hugged her as if he’d just found her after a war-long separation, which wasn’t far wrong. Her silky, fruit-scented hair brushed against his cheek, the softest thing he’d touched in months. His eyes stung. With a manly sniff, he held her at arms’ length, turning her from side to side, looking his fill.
“You look bloody gorgeous.”
She preened, tossing her hair in exaggerated slow motion.
“Thanks. Can I get you anything? Blood? Scotch?”
“Scotch,” he repeated, eyebrows lifting. “In hospital? It’s as bad as that?”
She looked away. He guessed it was.
“Ah. Well then, blood it is. Much obliged.”
She showed him how to get through the security doors with his visitor’s talisman. “Make sure you hang onto that,” she instructed. “Security is fierce in here.” Once inside, they walked down a featureless hallway to a small employee kitchen. “Cups are up there,” she said, pointing without looking while she rummaged in the fridge. “I hope this isn’t too old. I grabbed some of the stuff they were about to toss.”
“Not too picky, really,” he said. “Things haven’t been exactly posh on the road since we brassed off the Senior Partners. Anything that’s not rat will be a treat.”
She held out her hand for the mug, making a business of prepping the blood. She turned to look at him while the microwave hummed.
“I… I’m glad you made it.”
“Whenever you need me, Dawn. You know that.”
“I don’t either know that,” she mumbled. He flinched. When the microwave dinged she handed him the mug.
He took a sip. Christ. Slayer. O positive slayer. Incredible. He sank into one of the plastic chairs.
She took a deep breath. “I’m a big girl. You’re a big vampire. I know you have things to do, I know we’re…I’m not the center of the universe. But, I want you to know that we’re friends. Or, I hope we are. I know I didn’t act like it, before, and I regret that. A lot.”
She gave him another searching look. He opened his mouth to argue that she shouldn’t regret anything, but she held up a hand to stop him. “Anyway. I appreciate that you made the effort to come. I’m not expecting you to fix things. I just feel like you’re family and when I found out you were alive, I wanted to…to let you know how things were.”
He wasn’t sure how to respond. It was enough of a relief to know that he’d been readmitted to the Friends-of-Dawn club. He’d guessed as much when she’d tracked him down; but there was always the chance her invitation was part of an elaborate scheme to finally destroy him, as he suspected she thought he deserved. Hell, he sometimes thought he deserved it himself, even now. The promotion to member of the family-you-choose seemed excessive, if touching. Things must really be dire.
“Appreciate it, Dawn.” He licked the last drops from the rim and held up the mug. “Rupert know you’re ladling out slayer blood to any vamp that wanders by?”
“Pfft. Whatever. It’s a slayer clinic. They have monthly blood drives. We’re swimming in the stuff.”
He closed his eyes to examine that pretty picture better. No surprise: it didn’t appeal.
“All the same, don’t think I’ll be putting my review on Yelp! Five stars and all, but I’d hate for this place to become vamp destination dining. Ruin the ambiance.”
Dawn rolled her eyes. “You couldn’t have got past the gate without the talisman, Spike. Strictly no vamps — unless they’ve got an engraved invitation. That’s just you, so far.”
He fingered the little brass oblong in his pocket. His fingertips could just make out the difference between the scythe pictogram on one side and his name in elegant script on the other. It was blood-activated, giving off a subtle buzz of magic.
“Oh, that’s alright, then. As magic never goes off the rails, and all.”
They each arched an eyebrow at the other.
“Speaking of … any idea what happened to the Slayer? Spell? Always been the little engine that could, yeah? Why can’t she now?”
“We’ve ruled out any new mystic attack. There’s a small chance that the Kalashnikov venom…”
“Glarghk Guhl Kashma’nik?” asked Spike.
“Yeah, sorry. Xander’s name kind of stuck. Anyway, the venom may have left her more susceptible to delusions. But Spike, she’s had problems before. Lots of them. She has a history of depression, she probably has PTSD. You remember that catatonia incident during the fight with Glory? I’m glad I missed that one. It’s bad enough this time without the Hell god on our tail.”
Spike nodded. Dawn sat down at the table across from him.
“It was bad for everybody, after Sunnydale. I knew she was hurting, but she kept saying that she’d be okay, that everything would be different, that the worst was over. Then we lost of couple of the new girls during a training exercise. It was awful. I could see that’s when she realized: no matter what sacrifices she makes…” Dawn gave Spike a significant look. “…no matter what she does, people are just going to keep dying. It’ll never be over.”
Dawn took a shuddering breath. “She just crumbled, all at once. It was really scary, Spike.” She turned her brimming eyes to him.
His resolve not to make impossible promises wavered in the face of her tears.
He’d wanted to sweep in and kiss the lady fair awake, riding off into the twilight on matching steeds of snow white. Because he was a complete berk. But more pressing than that, he wanted to avoid giving Dawn any false hope. Dashed hopes were more devastating than those that had never been raised, as he knew too well.
“Hey now. It’ll work itself out. Always has before. Any girl that can survive the Hellmouth should be able to get through this, yeah? Hate to see a brave girl like you worry so. It’ll all work out,” he repeated, trying to sound confident.
She looked skeptical, but didn’t argue the point.
“So, are you ready to see her?” asked Dawn.
“No telling. Might as well find out, yeah?” He stood.
She nodded and led the way out of the kitchenette and down the hall.
They passed a room with a couple of slayers in traction, cheerfully playing “Anywhere But Here”. In another, a slayer was using just her arms to traverse the length of some parallel bars, her knee in heavy bandages. Down the hall, two more slayers on crutches swung along, giggling.
“They’re hardly ever here for more than a few days, but we get new ones all the time,” she explained as they walked.
“Buffy’s probably been here the longest. She still has moments of clarity. It’ll be weeks of just … nothing, and then she’ll sort of wake up and talk about her ‘dreams’. Sometimes she acts out her delusions. Nowadays she’s pretty much always doped up on the Cruciamentum cocktail, so she won’t hurt herself or the staff. When it gets really bad, she’s sedated.”
That was a bit worrisome, but before he could work it out, she was gesturing for him to touch his talisman to a plate next to yet another door.
“There are cameras inside and out, linked back to the nurses station. They’ll buzz us in.” A chime sounded along with the click in the door lock. Dawn waved up at the camera in thanks, pushing the door open.
They walked through a small, magazine-strewn lounge area into a short hallway with a couple of doors branching off on either side.
“I heard you met our other patient. Dana?” Dawn gestured to one of the closed doors.
The creepy-crawly sensation in his forearms was a dead giveaway. Yes, he remembered Dana. Dawn continued, unaware that anything was amiss.
“She’s improved a lot. I don’t think we’ll ever be able to put her in the field, but she’s responding well to gardening therapy. She’s got a big pipeline into the mystic slayer hive mind, though, and that’s keeping her off balance. She can replay battles from hundreds of years ago, or from last night. She’s also really keyed into the slayer dream visions, so she’s able to give us some perspective on what’s going on with Buffy, but I’m not sure it’s really good for Dana, you know?”
Spike didn’t know, and wasn’t sure he wanted to know. The subject of Dana was disturbing, and not solely because of the twinge in his forearms. Thanks to that lunatic bint, he bloody well knew that he couldn’t save everybody, even when he wanted to with all his soul. He felt a responsibility to slayers in general, and one in particular, but that didn’t mean his help would be welcome or even particularly helpful. It was a bad day when a man ran up against his limitations.
“Spike? You okay?”
He shook himself. “Sure, Bit. Just a lot to take in, that’s all.”
She looked all sympathy. He wished she’d stop. When she was younger, she’d always looked at him like he was a rainmaker, her natural skepticism adding the right touch of “prove it” challenge to make him feel up to any task, even at his lowest. Now, she was too old to expect miracles. It made him realize that he could not possibly produce one. Living down to expectations. Again.
She continued to the last door on the right, waiting for him to catch up.
“This is it,” she said, unnecessarily.
She peeked in to survey the room for a moment before entering. She shrugged, opened the door wider and motioned for Spike to follow her in. Spike stopped just to the side of the doorway and watched the still figure on the hospital bed. Had she always been so tiny? She almost disappeared into the bedclothes.
Dawn walked to Buffy’s bedside, taking her hand. “Hey, Buffy. You’ve got a special visitor today. Hot off the latest apocalypse and everything! I think you’re the first stop on the victory tour. Don’t you feel honored?”
There was no response.
“I’m sure you want to hear all about it without any interruptions from me. So, I’m going to leave you guys alone for a bit.” She gestured to a box dangling from the side of the bed and spoke over her shoulder to Spike, “Here’s the call button, if you need anything. If she wakes up, buzz the nurses’ station. Take as long as you like.”
Then she was gone.
Spike watched from across the room. He could make out her shallow breathing and the slow heartbeat from where he was. Under the antiseptic cleanser there was the muted scent of his Slayer, tainted with chemicals. There was a rattle as the melting ice settled in the plastic pitcher on her bedside table. The minutes slid by.
“Don’t be such a bloody coward!” he said under his breath. He forced himself to move to her bedside and looked into her face for the first time since the Hellmouth. His lively, golden Slayer: pale and quiet. At least this time there were no tears in her eyes.
Her hair was clean, brushed back without adornment. She wore no jewelry, not even her usual earrings, and no makeup, though her nails were immaculately varnished. Spike stroked one perfect tip, recognizing the handiwork of Dawn in the little design painted there. She was being tended to properly, then.
He hooked his foot around the leg of a utilitarian armchair— metal, not wood — and dragged it over without letting go of her hand. He settled in for a long wait. His thumb stroked the back of her hand while he looked into her face. He’d like to say it held a peaceful expression, but it didn’t. There was tension there, and her eyes darted to and fro behind her lids. Her mouth was set, and occasionally her shoulders gave a barely perceptible jerk. She was giving off too much heat, like she had in the old, dark days. He retrieved an ice cube, hesitating for a moment before rubbing it against the back of her neck. Her brow unfurled.
It was the sweetest sensation, bringing her any small comfort.
He sat for a long while, breathing along with her, letting the slow beat of her heart fill his ears.
“Guess you can still be alone with me here, after all,” he murmured.
In a low voice, he began to tell her about the past year. How he’d popped out of the amulet, thinking of her. How he’d begun to lose hope, without his body to orient him. How kind Fred had been, “Not that I ever stopped thinking of you, love.” Their despair at losing Fred. The anger at Giles’ refusal to help. “Finally got back at Angel for the gypsy, I expect. Got back at all of us. Especially Wes.” He decided not to talk about the rest of the year. Not much of a story for the sickbed, really.
Instead he backtracked to the time that Angel was transformed into a puppet. “Wish you could’ve been there to see it, pet. Brought a whole new meaning to the word ‘poof’. His wolfgirl made quite a job of him. Not so stuffy after that.” He made his hands into approximations of wereclaws, gesturing with the left, while he fitted his right between the fingers of her left hand.
The sudden heat against his palm made him pause. He looked at their joined hands. No mystic flames this time, just the heat of his Slayer pressed into the palm of his hand. He dragged his eyes up to her face.
She was wearing a watery smile, blinking at him drowsily.
“There you are,” she whispered.
He nodded, unable to speak.
“So beautiful,” she said. Her other hand came up to cup his cheek. He leaned into her touch. It was so gentle. He didn’t think Buffy had ever touched him so lightly. Must be the drugs.
“Think you’ve got it backwards, pet. You’re like to put out the sun, your beauty burns so bright.”
Her smile widened. “I miss you,” she said, so faintly he could barely make out the words.
He looked at her in wonder. She looked back with an expression of love and contentment. If only he knew the right words to say, but they were all flown.
Her hand fell back down to her side. Her eyes drifted shut again. “…glad you’re here…Angel…”
He froze, her fingers still entwined in his. He could tell from her breathing that she was already asleep.
He teetered on the edge of a yawning pit. He dropped her hand and felt himself plummet.
He was surprised to find himself still in the chair when the moment passed. He stared down at her. Her face was peaceful, finally. Right then.
He gathered both her hands in his. He lowered his forehead to rest against her knuckles, kissed the backs of both hands lightly, carefully placing them on the coverlet. He walked to the door, resting his forehead against it, fighting the desire to take one more look. He finally jerked open the door, fled to the hallway, and stood curled against the wall, shaking. He tried to remember if it would hurt more or less to breathe.
He heard the chime/click of the door opening, and straightened at once, turning to head off Dawn. He didn’t want to go back into the Slayer’s room.
Instead of Dawn, he came face-to-face with Dana, accompanied by two other women. A slayer and an orderly, by the looks of them. Everyone stopped dead. Dana smiled in a way that was more a baring of teeth than an expression of happiness. The other women looked him over suspiciously.
“Got a pass?” asked the slayer, holding out her hand.
He fished around in his pocket for the talisman and held it out to her. She waved a rectangular device over it, looked at the readout, and gave him a curt nod.
“He’s good,” she said, before continuing past him.
Dana didn’t move, but gave him a slow down and up with her eyes, still smiling her ghastly smile.
“Could’ve danced all night with that one,” she said. Spike’s forearms prickled.
“Feeling frisky, eh, Dana?” said the orderly. “We’ll get you back to your room and you can dance all you want.”
Dana tossed her head as if warding off an insect, walked down the hall and disappeared into the doorway opposite Buffy’s room. The other woman gave him a shrug and followed. The door snapped shut behind them.
He took a deep breath and walked into the waiting area, just as Dawn came in. She looked surprised.
“I’m not helping her much.”
“What? You sure can’t hurt.” She looked at him with her sharp eyes, which he did not meet. “Did something happen? Did she wake up?”
“For a moment. Didn’t recognize me. She dropped off again, straightaway.”
“What? That’s amazing! It’s been a couple of weeks since she…did she say anything?”
“Not really. Asked for the pouf.” He shrugged as if this were unimportant.
“That’s weird. She never…I’d better go check on her.” She turned to head down the hall. He stopped her with a word.
“Dawn.” He took a deep breath and ran a hand through his hair. “Can see I’m not going to be any use to her. Truth is, I’ve got a job. Some ruddy trans-dimensional Champion-for-hire gig. Gonna be away for a few months.” This was true, though he’d put the clients off when called to the Slayer’s side. No point in staying, now.
Dawn’s eyes filled with indignation, her nostrils flared. “But you just got here! I thought we could…you said you’d be here when I needed you!”
“I will. You don’t need me right now. Truth is, you need Angel. He’ll put her to rights.”
“I don’t want Angel! I don’t want him anywhere near her!”
“Isn’t about what you want, Dawn. Nor me. It’s about what she needs. I’d love to help her. You know I would. But I’m not the vampire with a soul for this job. Call Angel.” His steely gaze and jutting jaw made it clear that he was serious.
She stared at him with narrowed eyes.
“I never thought you’d be afraid to deal with her craziness. She did it for you. You did it for that skanky Drusilla chick. Now when it’s Buffy that needs help, you won’t even try!”
“For fuck’s sake, Dawn! Been down this road before — kidded myself I could be the one to save her. I’d stay by her side for a hundred years — be she crazy, sane, god, or monster — but all I do is hurt her and keep her from what she wants. What she needs. Won’t hurt her again.”
They faced each other with equally fierce looks, though she could see the pain in his eyes. She looked away first, crossing her arms across her chest and heaving a snorting sigh.
“Fine. You know, I liked you better without the stupid soul. At least then you weren’t a quitter.” She turned on her heel and stomped off toward Buffy’s room. She paused at the door, mumbling toward the floor. “Take the blood from the fridge. Might as well not go to waste.”
“And come back when you can. Stupid vampire. Family!” she insisted, pointing at him. Then she slipped into the room, the door shutting firmly behind her.
She watched Buffy breathe for a while.
“What happened, Buffy? God, even unconscious you can drive ‘em away. Whatever you’ve got, I hope it’s not hereditary.”
She flopped back in the chair and gazed at the ceiling. It’s not like Spike was the last hope or anything. Okay, almost. It’s just that she was sure that it wasn’t the deaths of the two trainees that had put Buffy into this state. She’d been teetering ever since Sunnydale, the cracks evident to her sister, at least. Rita and Siobhan were just the final little push. Now all the slayers’ horses and all the slayers’ men — not that they had a lot of either commodity — couldn’t put Buffy together again. But Dawn had been sure that Spike could. Not sure sure, maybe, but it was a strong hunch.
Dawn was jolted out of her thoughts. She sat up and saw Buffy watching her. She even wore a little smile.
“Buffy! Look who’s awake! Let me get you some water.” She hurried to get the straw arranged so that Buffy could take a few sips. “How’re you feeling?”
“Good. Nice dreams,” said Buffy. She took a final long draw on the straw. Dawn gave the pillows a brisk plumping beneath her head.
Dawn smiled. “Oh, yeah? What sort of torture was I undergoing this time?” she asked. “Still a giant? Or maybe a leprechaun? I’m still waiting for my turn as a mermaid, remember.” She undulated her shoulders to demonstrate.
Buffy smiled again. “Nope, no leprechauns. You were back to being plain vanilla Dawnie. I think you begged your monster boyfriend for forgiveness, and that’s all it took to make him turn you back.” She yawned.
“I begged for what, now? Riiiight. No wonder you like this dream.”
“That wasn’t even the good one. I finally dreamed about Spike.”
Dawn sank back into her chair. “You did? Anything fit for a young girl’s ears?”
“Yeah, unfortunately. You know, I have all these weird dreams, and he’s never been in any of ‘em. Just when I think he’s going to show up, it turns out to be Ethan Rayne or something.”
“This one was different. I think maybe it was a slayer dream. It seemed more real than the usual ones. Like, I could almost smell things. Could I have some more water?”
Dawn propped her up and held the straw in place. Buffy drank a little and leaned back, smiling.
“Anyway, I dreamed we were in heaven. I was warm and comfy, and he was there, holding my hand, giving me that look he used to. He told me I was more beautiful than the sun or something totally over the top, like he always did. God, I’m such a girl.”
“Yep,” agreed Dawn
“After Sunnydale… I was worried. What if he did all that — saved the world — and still got thrown into some hell dimension just ‘cos he’s a vampire? I don’t remember any vampires in heaven, you know? Of course, that’s no surprise. How many vampires switch sides, right?”
“But now, if that was a slayer dream, then it means that he’s happy, right? If he’s an angel, and all good slayers go to heaven, then I’ll see him again and we’ll be happy.”
“Wait. What do you mean, ‘angel’?” asked Dawn.
“Well, maybe not an angel in the ‘wings and harp’ way. I guess I just mean ‘he who hangs out in heaven’. Gotta admit, he always did have a heavenly body…”
“Oh, c’mon, you’re old enough to understand how it is.”
“No! I mean, yeah, sure, but this thing about Spike being an angel is just…oh, Buffy!”
“I know. It’s silly. I’m all, ‘Woo hoo! I had a dream that my dead vampire boyfriend isn’t rotting in hell! It’s a good day!’ Talk about diminished expectations…”
Dawn felt numb. What a train wreck.
But Buffy’s eyes were already starting to drift shut again. “Why am I always so tired?” she asked. Dawn hurried to ease her back into lying position. She was unconscious before her head reached the pillow.
Spike stopped just outside the gates and rummaged in his pockets for the other talisman. He pulled out a spiky, elongated scarab. Add a little spittle, a few grains of dirt, and Bob’s your uncle! He was talking to a 6-foot-tall, broad-shouldered bug. The two slayers guarding the entrance looked on with interest.
“Are you ready to begin the quest, Champion?” asked the bug.
“Just wanna know one thing before I accept your proposal, right? Where you’re from, they don’t have any bloody women, do they?”
“Bloody women?” asked the bug.
Spike outlined an hourglass in the air before him. The bug made a corresponding gesture with its antennae.
“Humanoid females. Are there any in your dimension?” Spike asked, enunciating every word.
“No, Champion. No humanoids save yourself.”
“Sounds like paradise. Alright then. I accept your challenge. Let’s get started.”
“You will be rewarded.” The bug made a complicated series of movements with its many limbs, and the two of them flashed out of existence on this plane.
The phone rang in the guard box. Rhea picked it up. “Gate house. Yeah, he just left…”
A/N2: Title from the lyrics to Heaven by Pere Ubu.
A/N3: Apologies to any mental health professionals, who can probably poke a zillion holes in Buffy’s condition, as presented.
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/423792.html